Posted by: Joe English | April 6, 2010

Commentary — The Superstar Effect and Marathon Running

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

The Wall Street Journal featured an article this weekend called The Superstar Effect. It’s a pretty interesting read that explores something that happens to folks when they are up against stiff competition: apparently they fold.

The article discusses a variety of settings in which people with extreme greatness dominate their competitors and it explores the reasons behind it. Some examples that come up are Tiger Woods and his domination of golf, Michael Jordan in basketball and Bobby Fischer in chess. Tiger apparently is so dominant that all of the other competitors in the game, especially those most likely to challenge him, statistically play worse whenever he’s even in a tournament. As Jennifer Brown, a expert from Northwestern University says in the article, “It doesn’t matter if the superstar is an athlete or a corporate vice president. . . .why should we invest a lot of energy in a tournament that we’re probably going to lose?”

It is interesting to think about this in the context of running and marathon running at the elite levels, or even at the back-of-the-pack. On the one hand, we can see how star power can come into play, but we also witness some amazing ferocity in the competition from the front to the back of the back.

Let’s look at elite racing first. In the marathon running world, we live in an era when world record attempts are promoted well in advance of races and fleets or pacers are brought in to support the athletes as they put their best game on. Look at the Berlin Marathon for example, where Haile Gebrselassie has set two world marks. In the coverage of those races it was almost as if no one else was in the race. And in truth, no one else was. No one seriously challenged Haile for the win. But it’s not as if the elite ranks took it sitting down either.

To continue reading, click here.


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